Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 13:50:54 +0900

>>>>> "ben" == Benjamin J Tilly <" <>> writes:

    ben> "Stephen J. Turnbull" <> wrote:

    >> How to be a perfect businessman: become perfectly One with The
    >> Market, and then do what comes naturally.

    ben> I disagree.

    ben> What you describe is good advice for making the right
    ben> short-term decisions.

Oh, c'mon, Ben, you should know better than that.  Neither Tim nor I
was talking about a gradient algorithm.  Tim's gradient is a property
of reality, and I'm talking Musashi's strategist (or Gordon Dickson's
Dorsai if you prefer a modern Obscure Reference)---making _globally_
correct decisions intuitively.

    ben> All this despite the fact that Sun has, by all accounts, been
    ben> very good at paying attention to customers, giving them what
    ben> they ask for, etc.  In other words Sun's troubles are not
    ben> mismanagement, they are the natural result of basic business
    ben> forces.

*shrug*  Being in tune with "basic business forces" and seeing trouble
coming a decade in advance is called "strategic management."  There is
a reason why boards of directors are willing to part with $100,000,000
compensation packages, and it isn't day-to-day TLC for the customers.

It's because (rightly or wrongly) the boards believe that these CEOs
are better than the average bear at _business model selection_, which
is precisely about working with, and not against, the basic business
forces.[1]  Such decisions are worth 10s, sometimes 100s, of billions of
dollars over the life of their implementation and influence on future

    ben> PS Why is it a big deal to decide what the label "fsb" should
    ben> refer to?

(1) Ethics are always a big deal.  In this case, I'm thinking of the
people who dislike Red Hat, and allow their dislike for some Red Hat
activity or other to spill over into claims that Red Hat isn't an
FSB.  This is just the flip side of "we like Tim, and he likes FS, so
ORA must be an FSB."  I think the "ORA is an FSB" position is much
more defensible, but I still think both are fallacious and for the
same basic reason.  Talk is already cheap, let's not debase the
currency further.

(2) Slippery slopes.  How often do we have newbies come in and say,
"Well, in _my_ market niche I have to use proprietary licenses.  Can
I still say I'm an FSB because I develop on and for Linux and my
website runs on Apache and Perl?"  How about s/Linux/Cygwin/?

(3) As a matter of practical advice.  We've been through this before,
but another example, as long as I'm here.  If some bright college
student comes to you with a neat piece of code and says, "I want to
make a business out of this," is your immediate reaction going to be
"Take a look at O'Reilly, they're an excellent FSB"?  Are they even
going to be on the radar, or are you going to say "look at Aladdin,
SleepyCat, Sourcefire, ..., but not Red Hat or SuSE, they're something
else again, ..., and see which looks most like your kind of market"?

    ben> O'Reilly made a lot of money from Perl,

Indeed?  Which brand of Perl do they sell?

This is just the old "Q: How do you make a lot of money from the
lottery?  A: Write a best-selling book about how to make a lot of
money from the lottery." fallacy.

    ben> and supported it in return.  Said support included hiring
    ben> many well-known Perl people, and helping resolve at least one
    ben> bitter dispute with a significant investment.  Judging from
    ben> the articles from the time which they have on their site,
    ben> this was a deliberate business strategy.

This business strategy is called "patronage."  A society hostess does
the same for an author she thinks has potential.  A patron of the arts
need not be an artist, nor does a patron of FS need to be an FSB.

    ben> If we don't count O'Reilly as an fsb, is discussing this
    ben> course of events now off-topic on this list?

No, because ORA is an important source of several kinds of support for
both FS in general and FSBs in particular.

[1]  Yes, I know it's really because Enron's boss sits on Exxon's
board, and they're helping each other steal.  No, I don't think so.
And in any case, that's how they sell their stockholders on the deal.

Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
 My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things.  I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember.  Scott Gilbert